The Youngest Child


All my life, I wanted to be older

I was, and suppose, am, the youngest of three sons. Youngest by far. But I adhered, even in my childhood, to a hazy logic of equality that insisted, however impossible, that I was to match my brothers. I had a happy childhood- even an exceedingly happy one- but I remember being constantly stressed out internally by a competition nobody else knew or expected from me. I didn’t have the vocabulary or awareness to put it together, but the feeling was a self-obsessed grandeur based, however far back, in an existential dread. I fantasized, constantly about greatness and distinction. I was going to be a prodigy, or famous, and I took these as inevitabilities because I couldn’t fathom living without them. I had brothers twice my age and twice my height, and without success- startling, impossible success- I’d just be a kid to them, to myself, and to the world, then and forever.

Something had to change.

I wanted to be like my brothers and I trace that less to mimicry and more to an anxious form of striving. I loved them and was impressed by them, and at some basic level, I couldn’t trace those back to myself. They loved me, of course, but I was not impressive.

I was unequal.

Soon, though, I found flexibilities. Time kept me separated from my brothers- I remember, realizing when I had birthdays, they’d have birthdays too- but, soon I found time-travel, such as it was.

I could, quite simply, lie.

Lying about my age didn’t feel like lying, though; it felt like self creation, spontaneous and freeing. I have a summer birthday, and hen I was nine, I got tired of seeing friends turn ten around me. Suddenly, I was ten. The passport of age, I saw, could be fudged, and from then on, I deemed it flexible.  At fifteen, I was sixteen. At sixteen, I was eighteen.  My freshman year of college, I told older girls, older people, desperate to impress, that I was a gap-year Freshman.

I’d do anything to be an adult. Except, of course, to grow up.

That’s the ultimate problem. As much as I prized adulthood, I saw it through a gauze of hazy fear. How do I work a dishwasher? I was the youngest, and I could avoid that problem. How to address a rent check? Google, to the rescue…or Scott. Scott would do it for me.

The cruel irony, of course, is that growing up the youngest, even as I aspired to adulthood, I identified as a kid. It’s implicit, of course- to aspire to adulthood means you’re not one, and to keep fetishizing competence meant that even basic life skills took on a scary, hazy, mystery. Cook my own food? That’s for adults! So, rather than slowly learn through mistakes, I froze, a deer in headlights facing, at last, what I’d pretended to be ready for. And I didn’t cook.

I still don’t cook. That’s fine, but it’s weird that I feel so guilty.

Rather than chase maturity, I eyed it warily. I wanted to be older, but I viewed it as so inherently foreign that I cut corners to maturity. I was sixteen, saying I was eighteen, even as I skirted around basic growth. The gaps between where I was and where I wanted to be were maddening. I didn’t want a suit, but why didn’t I have one?

If you’re the youngest child, I don’t have an answer for you. But I hope that reading this makes some sense to you. Articulating the vagaries of age and time is a pursuit best chased by writers far more deft than myself, but suffice to say, wow, this sentence is pretentious.

See what I mean about faking older? It’s my instinct to throw in words and bluff, tone breezy, waiting to be called out. I’m talking about the vagaries of age that sentence says. Of course I’m an adult.

We’ll see how that goes.

image – Shutterstock